Does High-priced Fresh Produce Increase Obesity Among Young Children? American University Research Finds Price Plays Role in Obesity in Children of Less Affluent

Higher priced fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher Body Mass Index (BMI) in at-risk children from two to five years of age. Profs. Morrissey and Jacknowitz conclude that policies aimed at reducing the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight outcomes among young children which in turn could have a positive effect on their longer term health.

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Fresh produce prices impact young children's BMI

Policies aimed at reducing the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight outcomes among young children which in turn could have a positive effect on their longer term health.

Washington, DC (PRWEB) April 02, 2014

Does the price of a banana weigh in on a child’s body mass index (BMI)? Yes, according to American University Professors Taryn Morrissey and Alison Jacknowitz. Morrissey, Jacknowitz and doctoral student Katie Vinopal’s study Local Food Prices and Their Associations with Children’s Weight and Food Security which appeared in the March 2014 edition of Pediatrics, official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics links fresh fruit and vegetable prices to obesity in young children.

Key Research Finding

Morrissey and Jacknowitz’s key research finding is that higher priced fresh fruits and vegetables are associated with higher BMI in at-risk children from two to five years of age. Morrissey and Jacknowitz conclude that policies aimed at reducing the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight outcomes among young children which in turn could have a positive effect on their longer term health.

Background and Prior Studies

While much has been made about the recent rate of obesity falling in kids aged 2 to 5 years across the board, certain segments of young child population are particularly vulnerable to food price fluctuation which is the subgroup that Morrissey, Jacknowitz and Vinopal focused. “The obesity drop across the board has value but it is still higher than it should be for young children,” says Taryn Morrissey.

During the 1997-2003 time period, the price of fruit and vegetables increased by 17 percent. Meanwhile, overweight children --meaning bodyweight exceeded a BMI above the 85th percentile-- increased from 21 percent in 1999-2000 to 26 percent in 2009-2010.

Previous research established that living in areas with higher-priced fast food and soda was associated with lower bodyweight and BMI, whereas an inverse relationship existed where prices for fruits and vegetables were higher—meaning families may purchase lower priced energy dense foods – snacks and sugar sweetened drinks or fast food-- versus more costly nutritious options – fruits and vegetables, particularly those under tight budgets. However, research had not examined these relations among young children, nor the role of fresh vs. frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.

About the Study

Among the hypotheses Morrissey, Jacknowitz, and Vinopal tested were whether 1) high-priced fruits and vegetables and low-priced fast food and soft drinks were associated with a greater likelihood of being overweight and a higher BMI among children aged 2 to 5 years; and whether 2) the price of fresh fruits and vegetables will be more strongly associated with outcomes than frozen or canned fruits and vegetables.

Specifically, Morrissey and Jacknowitz focused on a subsample of households with children living under the 300 percent Federal Poverty Level. Their data consisted of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Birth Cohort data and local food price data from the Council for Community and Economic Research Cost of Living Index.

“This research is among the first isolating the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, whose prices vary more than frozen or canned options,” says Morrissey, “We also expanded the research on soft drink prices, since sugar-sweetened beverages account for nearly 15 percent of children’s daily calorie intake."

The specific food prices examined in each category were the following:

  •     A basket of vegetables and fruit prices were examined which consisted of potatoes, bananas, lettuce, canned sweet peas, canned peaches, and frozen corn. The basket was further split to isolate fresh fruits and vegetables.
  •     The fast food prices examined were for a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, 11 inch-12 inch thin-crust regular Pizza Hut/Pizza Inn cheese pizza, and a fried chicken meal of a drumstick and thigh from Kentucky Fried Chicken/Church’s Fried Chicken. The average price of a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola was also studied.
Conclusions

Findings suggest that policies that reduce the costs of fresh fruits and vegetables may be effective in promoting healthy weight outcomes among young children. Specifically, they highlight the potential of Massachusetts’ Healthy Incentives Pilot and New York City’s financial incentives for fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets as two examples of programs that could reduce the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables to help combat the incidence of obesity among young children.


Contact

  • J. Paul Johnson
    American University
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  • American University Communications

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